Introducing Arlington’s COVID-19 Community Archive

Six months after Arlington’s first diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in March, Arlington’s COVID-19 Community Archive is available and accepting contributions on the “Local History Resources” page at robbinslibrary.org. The archive presents a snapshot of life in Arlington during the pandemic and includes a growing array of images, videos, and documents for future students of local history.

Any document that reflects life in Arlington during the COVID period is considered for submission. Library staff encourage a diverse range of material including diaries, journals, essays, art work, amateur photos captured on cell phones, videos, and other documents. Arlington residents who would like to submit files to the archive can do so via the online submission tool at this link on the Robbins Library COVID-19 Community Archive.

In March 2020 as schools and workplaces closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff at the Robbins Library recognized a need to begin documenting life during the COVID period. During the first few months of the pandemic, library staff set up the necessary technology tools to create the backbone of the archive and a submission tool for community members to share digital files. In July, staff began reaching out to community leaders to solicit contributions to Arlington’s COVID-19 Community Archive.

So far, the earliest image in the collection is a photo of a March 9 press conference with national and regional news media interviewing Christine Bongiorno, Health and Human Services Director. Assistant Director of Libraries Anna Litten’s favorite image is a photo titled “Arlington Service Station Raises Sign of Hope and Thanks.” Litten says, “The color and composition would make it a great photo under any circumstances, but the image captures a public art project featuring mask-like flags and a ‘Thank You Caregivers’ banner that really captures the spirit of Arlington.”

“We hope that seeing the archive as it is now will inspire community members to find their own images and other documents to contribute to the collection,” says Litten. “It’s a great time to look through your camera roll or diaries to find pieces that would work well in the collection.” Litten adds, “I’m hoping that community members will add photos of the bare grocery store shelves and signs limiting the purchase of cleaning supplies that we saw back in April as well as other documents that capture the early days of the pandemic.”

Joan Roman, Arlington’s Public Information Officer, was one of the first contributors to the project. Roman suggests including detailed description of any file uploaded to the archive. “Since this is an archive, it is important to include details of the image on hand. Think of someone looking at this image in 20 or even 50 years. The pandemic might be a mere memory, or even forgotten. This is your opportunity to share your experiences during this historic moment in time and answer the question ‘what was it like’, ” says Roman. “Don’t forget to include details like dates and places on photos, answer basic who, what, where, why, and when for each file,” Roman adds.

To access the archive, visit robbinslibrary.org and select Local History Resources. Find Arlington’s COVID-19 Community Archive under Robbins Library Digitized Historical Materials. Visitors who click into the archive can choose to follow the simple prompts to create a profile and download content, save favorites, and see their recent searches. Or they can select Robbins Library from the drop-down menu to move straight to viewing the archive.